On Coconuts, Rivers, and Mountains II – What it takes to be a Doktor Para sa Bayan

February 20, 2017

I arrive at the Bicol University College of Medicine building bringing with me 4 bags – 1 for clothes, 1 for my laptop, chargers, and books, 1 small sling bag for my phone and coin purse, and 1 eco bag for the food from the dormitory(they converted my rent to food). 1 month before the departure, I was already buying stuff needed for my 1 month stay in community. I’m the type of person who likes to be always prepared, always with a Plan B, Plan C, looking at all sides of the picture before pushing through. Which was why I was carrying 10 kg load in one hand, 10 kg load in the other, and about 5 kg load on my back.

Now that I’ve mentioned my dormitory, let me trace back a bit by going back to February 1. In my dormitory we have 1 third year medical student, 2 second year medical students, and us 3 first years. Though they’ve already experienced it, the too were quite as excited as we were going to the community. I always ask them what to bring, what to expect, what they advise to do and such. Actually, now that I’ve thought about it, I think their answers were the reasons why I came overly prepared. Up until 3 days prior to departure, we weren’t informed as to what to expect, what to bring, and where exactly our community was so we mainly relied on what the higher years could advise us.

One of my second year dorm mate relates their experience in the community. Theirs was in Libmanan, Camarines Sur. To go there, they hired a van, then, a small boat to cross the river and go to their community.  Upon arriving they find out that the community was between the coastline and a sort of valley. They stayed in a Barangay Health Station, with running water and electricity. Every morning they would wake up early as the midwives and BHWs in duty would perform their work. This was when they were in first year, so their activity mostly consisted of community assessment. Now, the list of what to bring begins. She advised bring a jacket or that long black sleeves of a motorcycle driver, to prevent sunburn. Also bring sunblock, cap, shades, a bottle of water, and an umbrella. In their community, the river that they crossed apparently was dry in the morning and water rises up as the sun sets such that it becomes a river in the late afternoon. She advised to bring boots in case it gets muddy and it rains or to cross rivers and streams. As for sleeping, she uses a thin foam but recommends a sleeping bag, 1 pillow, blankets, Off lotion, PJs and the like. For food she advised us to bring lots and lots of canned goods. She relates of an experience on their last day when they literally had a shortage of food causing them to be creative and fit what they have to feed 11 people. And so the list went on and on until I created a master checklist for my things.

So many things to buy = So many things to bring

I bought everything good for one month thinking that we won’t go home every weekend and spend the entire month there. What if there was no sari sari store? What if there was no water? What if there was no electricity? So I bought coffee good for 30 days, shampoo good for 30 days, everything good for 30 days. I seriously considered buying boots but at the last minute thought maybe we weren’t going to a place that required boots so I didn’t but them. However, I brought my non-foldable umbrella, 2 jackets, a thick and thin blanket, 5 PJs, and 12 shirts, shorts, undies, 4 pants, 2 shoes, plenty of hankies, towels, facetowels, hangers and such.

Why that many? One higher year told us that there was a community with no water that they actually brought plenty of clothes to be presentable.

Don’t worry that’s just the first week. I brought half of everything back by the first weekend. LOL.

So that was the month prior to the actual community exposure. Sunday before the departure, we shopped for our food – egg, rice, dried fish, dried goods, a few veggies, as well the non-food items. We left them all sealed up in our building like the other groups so our baggage for the next day would be less.

Monday.

The group’s call time was 7 AM. Upon arriving, there were already a lot of pioneers in the building, with their respective preceptors, bringing their own things. I entered the room and the smell hit me right away. Almost all of the dried fish that we bought were lying on the floor, stolen, and eaten by a cat. There were cat scratches on the side of our basket. Hay…

Moving on, one by one my classmates started to arrive each bring their own luggage. Surprise surprise! Our boys brought wheeled luggage bags while we girls brought hand carry-type bags. Wow.

At about 8:30 AM, our van arrived and with a few sacrifices and a bit of physics, all 11 of us fitted in together with all our stuff, and the driver as well. The ride to Tabaco was quite smooth, though it was raining when we arrived at about 9:30AM at the City Hall of Tabaco and conducted the courtesy call to the city mayor.

The mayor of Tabaco City was so kind and supportive. She even divulged to us her secret dream of becoming a medical doctor if politics did not became her calling. Guess what her main problem in our barangay was though? The presence of nice people around. She immediately called her chief of police to inspect the place prior to our arrival to ensure our safety. At that time my groupmates and I were starting to get scared as the mayor told us that we would be moved to another barangay if there were news of those people. Once she assured us that the police were on their way, finally, we went back to our van to travel to Oras.

Surprise surprise! Our boxes were missing! Those were supposed to be placed under our sleeping bags to keep away the cold but a certain someone, left it out of the van and forgot to bring it back in. It’s gonna be a cold night then.

The van ride drone on and on and the driver kept mum. Finally, he asked us, “Where is Oras?” We all looked at him like whaaaat? We thought he knew. He kept talking about it on the way. So we stopped over by a sari sari store and asked some ladies there. Apparently, we were so far from Oras, we were already in the next barangay! Good thing at that moment, our preceptors called us and told us they’ll wait for us along the highway. So we turned back, found them, and continued our journey. WOW, we were like 20-30 minutes far from the supposed entrance to the barangay.

A road with no sign led the way inside Oras, away from the national highway. It was an uphill, downhill, curved road, but it was cemented. It took about 10-15 minutes to reach a wooden bridge and then you can enter the barangay. Upon our arrival, there was already the police mobile and it was raining heavily. We waited by a shed as we saw the policemen crossing the bridge towards us. They had just finished meeting with the kapitan and knew of the situation. There were no new sightings of the people and the area was declared safe. They initiated to hire tricycles for our luggage and helped carry them to the Barangay Hall.

It was an experience crossing the bridge. It had no railings but it was wide enough to fit a tricycle so it was sturdy. Under the bridge was a flowing river with many large rocks. The water was clear but strong due to the rain. We walked to the Barangay Hall with our preceptors, carrying some of our other luggage.

The place we were staying in was like a compound. It had a gate and walls. Inside the lot were two buildings, one was a one storey day care center, and another was a two storey building. The first floor was the barangay health center and kitchen, upstairs was the barangay hall. When we arrived, a kagawad, the kapitan, and her secretary were there to welcome us. They briefed us of the barangay, that it was relatively safe and there were no trouble. In terms of those people, the last encounter they had with them was 10 years ago so even they doubt that they were still there. It was around lunch time when we arrived so we cooked what was easily cooked – rice, noodles, and luncheon meat. Our preceptors left around 1:30pm.

First task: Clean everything.

There were 4 comfort rooms for use – 2 beside the health center, 2 inside the day care center, but only 2 had running water. Both had no light so flashlights were needed every time we went to the toilet. There was also a faucet outside near the comfort rooms with water. There was no faucet in the kitchen so everything has to be washed outside. Good thing there was a large wooden table outside the barangay health center. It was a non-functioning health center are there were no medical equipment available, save for 2 weighing scales and a height chart. During our first week, the children from daycare conducted their activities inside the barangay health center as the roof of the daycare center flew during the typhoon last December 2016, so the entire daycare becomes flooded every time it rains.

The barangay lent us a big cooking pot and a deep wok for cooking. They also lent us plates, glasses, spoons, forks, and cooking utensils. Di ba? Ang bait bait nila. For cooking, we brought a small gasulito with a single burner as well as various ingredients.

We also had a meeting for the committees to evenly distribute the work. Of course, I was on kitchen duties haha yey. There were the washing, runners, cleaners, and cooking team.

The cleaners were also busy, when we went up after lunch, the tables were placed beside the walls, along with our stuff. Then, of course, as per Filipino tradition(lol reasons), we had our siesta time.

When we woke up at 3 pm, we went out and conducted our first ocular assessment to Purok 3, the farthest Purok. It was a long walk, and it was raining. We only got halfway along the road and returned back due to the rain. During that time, school was let out, so children were walking back to their homes too. One group accompanied us and stopped when we also stopped. They didn’t talk, only stared. When we started to walk back they asked if we weren’t going to continue. We told them we’ll continue tomorrow.

In front of the the barangay hall were 2 sari-sari stores, one of which was owned by the barangay treasurer. His store was sort of like a mini mart since they also sell meat, fish, chicken, and vegetables. When we went back due to the rain, we bought meat and cooked pork sinigang that night. Mmmm… falling rain, cold wind, and hot pork sinigang made us all content for our first night.

The next day we conducted our first barangay meeting to meet all the barangay officials, introduce ourselves and our purpose in the barangay. We also informed them that we planned to conduct a stakeholder’s meeting the next day with the community people to introduce ourselves and for them to identify core leaders in their community.

Wednesday.

As soon as we woke up, wow. Men were coming in through the gate setting up a tent, some were bringing in monoblock chairs and placing them in the yard. Though the program was set to 2 pm that afternoon, the barangay officials popped in to bring speakers and curtains. Surprise, surprise. Come 8:00 am the power went out. With one click of a finger, one barangay kagawad immediately sent for his generator to be brought and used. No surprise, the entire group was extremely overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the people. And! Take note, they were living up to their name. Oras meaning time. They were so disciplined that the people started to arrive 30 minutes before the program! The vice mayor even dropped by to introduce himself but he couldn’t stay for the program due to previous arrangements.

At exactly 2:00pm, 100 people arrived, all the monoblock chairs were occupied, and there were representatives from every purok! The elementary school principal even volunteered her students to do an intermission number and they were so cuuuute! They arrived all in full get up and make up.

Meanwhile, I was given a new challenge. I became an instant host LOL. The first thing I did was what we always did during intrams, a roll call. Lo and behold, there was only one representative for Purok 3. A smiling old man. So I interviewed him, asked him his name and age. He was 82 years old! I asked if he came with anyone else and he said he came alone. Imagine! Purok 3 is the farthest barangay from the hall, about a 30 minute walk uphill and yet this lolo came just to attend our meeting. The entire audience expressed their amazement when they learned of his age and that he came alone. To lighten up the mood, I asked for a muse for lolo. I asked if anyone was of the same age group as him. An elderly woman raised her arm. I approached her and asked her name and age. She was 86 years old! Wow! So I asked the secret of her age and she stated she eats vegetables and rice, seldom meat. Then I asked her for her advice to the elementary students present. She told them to study hard and follow their parents. So with that, we had an instant muse and escort in the community! Hahaha LOL.

With that, we started our program. The usual invocation, Lupang Hinirang, welcoming message, and opening remarks. I went to the kitchen to help Ate Pam finish up her macaroni soup. We distributed them in cups along with a piece of bread while the elementary students danced and they were really so cute!!! After they danced I told the audience to look at the principal. She was smiling from ear to ear during the entire dance and looked so proud of them. I also told them that if there was anyone who would like to perform, they can approach any of us. Suddenly, two teens approached and told us they would like to perform. They sang and the audience asked for an encore. They sang another tune and the entire crowd went wild. Why? They were singing a song that depicts that being heartbroken. They were all teasing them after haha. Then the actual voting began and it went smoothly. A kagawad helped us talk to the audience and within 20 minutes, we were done! Kuya Pua initiated that we play some games as we were told that a representative from the City Health Office was already on her way. The games committee panicked as we didn’t have prizes to give away. They went up to our room, raided our stocks, and came back with the “prizes”. Hahaha. For the kids they brought back a large bag of chips and some biscuits. For the adults, they brought back 1 whole pack of instant coffee. I told them we were going to use the coffee for the meeting tomorrow so they panicked again and told me there was nothing else we can give. I told them to wait and raided my stocks from the dorm. I gave them 3 canned goods and told them that’s the prize for the adult. I also brought biscuits to give to the kids that didn’t win. When the games ended, we also ended the program. The community people immediately initiated the bayanihan effect. Each picked up his/her chair and brought it bakc to the elementary school. The men disassembled to tent and brought back the generator. At 5:00pm, the yard was clean, and we were all sitting and finally catching our breath. Suddenly, a woman entered our gate. She was the doctor we were waiting for! She advised us on how to deal with community people and told us that she was familiar with the area and that she knew that the community was safe. With that she left and we started dinner.

The next day we conducted our first focus group discussion with the core leaders to get to know them and discuss what they know about the community as well as confirm or oppose those that we observed during our ocular visit.

Friday.

One of our preceptors arrived bringing lots of bread and peanut butter. He asked us of our activities that week and our activities for the next week.

Finally, we were done with one week! 😀

 

To Hills, Lake, and Ruins

I’ve always wanted to explore Albay. However, all I’ve known about it is the famous active volcano with the perfect triangular shape. The pride of all Bicolanos and the so called “sister volcano” of Mt. Fuji, our very own Mt. Mayon.

Well apparently, there’s a lot of hidden natural treasures here. The beautiful places in Albay are made by Mother Nature herself. There’s Mt. Mayon itself, then Quitinday Green Hills, Hoyop-hoyopan Cave, Sumlang Lake, Kawa-Kawa Hill, and so much more! There are also some man made modifications that allow beautiful views of Daragang Magayon like Puro(Legazpi Boulevard) along the port of Legazpi and Lignon Hill near Legazpi Airport.

It was a spur of the momemt decision to go to Quitinday. My roommate Irene and I were bored and with exams and community presentations done, we had nothing to do. Originally, the plan was set to Friday but it was only Wednesday and we were bored out of our wits so she asked if we can go the next day. I agreed and called on four others who wanted to come. Only one also agreed so we set the call time to 6am the next day. Ha! As if! 6 am in my dreams hahaha. As per Filipino time tradition, we left Daraga around 9:00 am. The night before, I looked for directions on how to get to Quitinday and several websites told the same thing. From Daraga, ride a Legazpi-Polangui jeepney. Ask the driver to drop you off at the intersection to Quitinday. There would be tricycles waiting along that intersection. All they ask for is 500 pesos for a round trip service. Please don’t haggle. The ride is half cemeted and half rough road and it takes about 30-40 minutes to arrive. At first glance you’ll think that it was a wide plain with some bahay kubo sari sari stores.

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Entrance to Quitinday Hills

Upon arrival, we went to register and paid the entrance fee of 20 pesos. The lady at the stall stated that there were no guides that day but she had a tarpaulin depicting the bird’s eye view of Quitinday and it was actually very straight forward. Upon climbing the main hill, there will be a bahay kubo rest place. Two paths lead away from there, one to the north and the other south. The south path is steeper and higher and show you the rolling hills while the north path shows you Mayon in all its glory. Neri and Irene were quite excited to go that the moment the lady said we can climb up, they went straight to the parking lot hahaha. The lady laughed saying they were going in the wrong direction. Apparently, we were already standing on the foot of the main hill. At the back of the kubo was the “stairs” going up the main hills. “Stairs” because it was not man made in the sense that it was cemented or wooden but because it was dirt. Compacted dirt molded to form a stair-like formation with railings of bamboo.

So up we went. 5 minutes up and we were already catching our breath. It was very steep!IMAG9760.jpg But it was very compact. Good thing that the weather was perfect. I can’t imaging if it was rainy and the ground was muddy. There were some parts where the formation of the stairs were lost so you step on rocks while holding on to the railings for dear life. Note: Please look at the railings before you hold them. We were all victimized by holding what we thought was a strong bamboo but was hollow inside or was cut further along. 10 minutes later, we arrive at the bahay kubo rest place and immediately, we were given the whole 360 degree view of the gorgeous rolling hills of Quitinday.

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It was beautiful. To the north we can see the perfect cone of Mayon. To the south we can see another hill. Everything was picturesque. Long grass talahib were everywhere but in that area where the bahay kubo was, it was plain carabao grass. We rested a bit at the kubo. That 10 minute trek puts a toll on your lungs. Seriously. Note: Bring lots of water. Gatorade would be better. And snacks, don’t forget snacks BUT PLEASE BRING YOUR TRASH DOWN WITH YOU.

We decided to first go to the higher hill. But what we thought would be an easy climb was apparently an even steeper hill! And there was only half of the “stairs”. The rest were rocks and plain dirt, though there was also bamboo railings.

The climb took less than 5 minutes but upon reaching the top, you’ll need another 5 minutes to catch your breath and unfortunately, there were no chairs at the top. The view, however, was absolutely stunning. Note: At this point I’m running out of adjectives so bear with me guys LOL.

You can see the entire Quitinday Hills as well as the plains down below and it also shows you a beautiful view of Mayon.

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The sun and wind were also stronger there. We would’ve stayed longer but the heat was really strong so we went down. Neri and Irene went first as I was busy taking videos of the path and the view. I went down holding my monopod with the phone in it, no longer recording when whooosh! I slid down the hill. I tried to stand but slid down a few more inches. My monopod was on the ground but there was no phone! Aaaaah! I looked around and it wasn’t on the ground. I finally found it on top of the talahib. Good thing it wasn’t buried all the way down and I saw the aluminum shine. The ground pala at that point was literally dirt, and it was loose dirt so it was slippery. If there weren’t rocks I would’ve slid all the way down to the bahay kubo. Anyway I’m bookmarking that down in my unconscious as Experience so it’s all good, though my butt hurt a bit. Once again, we rested for while in the bahay kubo before proceeding to the next hill.

The path to the north hill wasn’t as visible as the one on the south. It seemed to be a steep path going downward and it was covered by bushes. It was also a dirt path with no bamboo railings. Past that however, is another hill with another set of steep path but with the stairs-shape like before. There was also bamboo railings on its side. It wasn’t as steep as the other hill so this climb was easier. On top you’ll be presented with the majestic view of Mayon with its perfect cone.

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Like the previous hill, there were also talahib that surround this area. Note: At this point offer a bit of prayer to thank the Lord for His creations. You’ll really feel relaxed here. The sun isn’t quite as strong but the wind gets stronger. My cap even flew away and once again, good thing it flew unto the tall grass. Once again, there are no chairs in that hill and eventually the heat got to us. We then decided to go down. The trike driver waited for us and even took us to the famous Let’s Pinangat for lunch.

Lake.

When we were riding the jeepney to Quitinday, Neri shouted out that she saw a sign pointing to the entrance to Sumlang Lake. It was only noon when we went down to eat. Since we still had a lot of time, she suggested we go to Sumlang Lake. To go to Sumlang Lake from Let’s Pinangat, ride a jeep going to Legazpi. You’ll see along the road a large sign saying entrance to Sumlang Lake. From the main road, you can walk towards the entrance, about 15 minutes. Entrance to the Lake is 10 pesos. You’ll be bombarded with native furnitures and instagrammable scenes. There are water activities available near the lake shore, most of which costs less than 50 pesos. We availed the boat? ride. They let you choose which boat? you wanted. There were different pieces of furniture per boat and two landmarks across the lake. A large Sumlang Lake sign with the majestic view of Mt. Mayon in the background, and a little island with a beautiful piece of native furniture you can sit on. We didn’t avail of the other activities but did take a lot of pictures.

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Ruins.

From Sumlang Lake, we rode a jeepney going to Legazpi once more and asked to be dropped off at Cagsawa. Along the road, there was a huge statue of the Cagsawa Ruins, that’s the landmark.  From there, you can ride a tricycle to get to the gate entrance of Cagsawa or you can take a 10 minute walk to the entrance. Entrance fee is 25 pesos.

Good weather and daragang magyon peeking out of the clouds means a crowded landmark. There were crowds of families and tourists visiting the landmark. It was quite different from when  first visited it.

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What a great day to start the summer! 😀